Definition: The 404 Error Page (“Page Not Found”) is one of the most recognizable errors on the internet. You have certainly experienced it when you clicked on a broken link or mistyped a URL, and the website could not find the page that you had requested. Technically speaking, a 404 is the standard status code that is shown when a server cannot find the content that was requested. 

As 404 errors can have a significant, negative impact on the user experience and search engine optimization (SEO), this article will explore why they occur, the impact, how you can identify them, and how you can resolve them.

Why do 404 error codes occur?

A 404 response code can be caused by the user, an external website or your own website.

User:

  • Manually enters an incorrect URL

External Website, Email or Ad:

  • Links to your website with an incorrect URL

Your Website:

  • The server is not properly configured to fulfill the requested action.
  • The page has moved to a new location (new URL) without a redirect set in place
  • The page is temporarily unavailable, perhaps because it is being worked on.
  • The page has been permanently deleted with no redirect set in place
  • An internal link is found on the website with an incorrect URL

How do 404 errors affect your Website

404 errors can result in lost revenue

Traffic is critical for ecommerce revenue. 

Generally speaking, Traffic x Conversion Rate x Average Order Value (AOV) = Estimated Revenue 

Given that approximately 74% of those who will encounter a 404 error will leave and never return, 404 error pages significantly impact your conversion rate and, in turn, your revenue.

404 errors result in a poor user experience

Not only do 404 errors make it more difficult for a shopper to find what they are looking for, they create a poor shopping experience. In a global marketplace, you not only need to have shoppers find your store and products, you need to convince them that you are a trustworthy source to purchase from. Errors on your site diminish the confidence the buyer has that you will properly fulfill their order in a timely manner with quality products.

404 errors will negatively impact your SEO

Besides losing customers when a 404 error is actually displayed, there are negative SEO impacts to having a high 404 error rate:

  1. While Google indicates that 404 errors do not directly hurt your rankings, sites with consistently high 404 error percentages can be seen as less reliable for searchers. Cleaning up bad links, broken images and missing pages can increase search rankings.
  2. Broken links can result in lost traffic and page rank that might otherwise be passed to your site.

How to identify 404 errors

The first step to fixing 404 errors is to identify them. To do this there are several options:

  • Google Search Console will show some 404 errors in its Index Coverage Report based on crawling URLs found in your sitemap and linked to from other websites.
  • The Swerve Redirects app tracks 404 errors encountered by users in real time.
  • Site Crawlers such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider will crawl your site to identify broken links found within your website

How to greatly reduce 404 errors

To ensure 404 errors don't get out of hand, it is considered a best practice to regularly check for and fix broken links. When remedying 404 errors, there are three easy ways to classify them:

  • Broken internal links: these are links that are found on your own website that result in a 404 error. To resolve these, you want to fix the link itself. Find and modify the link for every 404 error. Use the “Linked From” field in the tools above to find the page(s) where the broken link originates.
  • External links: these are inbound links that originate from somewhere outside of your website. As you generally do not have the ability to edit the target of an external link, set up a 301 redirect to point the broken URL at the appropriate target URL. For example, if another website links to www.example.com/red-black-shoe... in error, you would create a redirect to the correct URL, www.example.com/black-red-shoe...
  • Direct navigation: these are errors that result when a user directly types a page URL into the browser but either mistypes or tries to go to a page that does not exist. As these are unique, there is not a way that they can be prevented. A 301 redirect can be created, but is likely not necessary.

To fix 404 errors with a 301 redirect, you can manually create 301 redirects one by one in the Control Panel. You can also prepare a CSV file and bulk import it in the Control Panel. Alternatively, the Swerve Redirects app allows you to quickly fix 404 errors with 301 redirects in a single step.

Note: In some cases it may make sense to leave a 404 error alone.

How to improve the 404 error experience

It is inevitable that some 404 errors will be encountered on your site. However, there are ways of improving the user experience for those that encounter them.

Make navigation menu & search bar accessible

Be sure that your site navigation and search bar are available. This allows a shopper to continue their search for the intended page. While many will still leave, some may actually continue and find their own way.

Create a custom 404 page experience

Most 404 error pages offer the same bland experience. As important as this page is, it generally receives very little attention and effort. Consider creating a custom 404 error page to better engage the user.

Offer a promotion

Try to turn the negative experience into a positive one by offering a promotion or benefit of some sort. You might consider sharing a coupon code to convert what would have been a bounce into a customer.

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